Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for crimes known as capital crimes or capital offences. At various times, the execution of criminals and political opponents was used by nearly all societies both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent.
- Death is an unusually severe and degrading punishment; there is a strong probability that it is inflicted arbitrarily; its rejection by contemporary society is virtually total; and there is no reason to believe that it serves any penal purpose more effectively than the less severe punishment of imprisonment. The function of these principles is to enable a court to determine whether a punishment comports with human dignity. Death, quite simply, does not. When this country was founded, memories of the Stuart horrors were fresh and severe corporal punishments were common. Death was not then a unique punishment. The practice of punishing criminals by death, moreover, was widespread and by and large acceptable to society. Indeed, without developed prison systems, there was frequently no workable alternative. Since that time, successive restrictions, imposed against the background of a continuing moral controversy, have drastically curtailed the use of this punishment. Today death is a uniquely and unusually severe punishment.
- William J. Brennan, Jr., Opinion in Furman v. Georgia, 1972, as quoted in Historic Documents of 1972. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
- Bran Stark: Our way is the old way.
- Ned Stark: The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
- Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date on which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not to be encountered in private life.
- Albert Camus, “Reflections on the Guillotine,” Resistance, Rebellion and Death (1961).
- A punishment that penalizes without forestalling is indeed called revenge.
- Albert Camus, “Reflections on the Guillotine,” Resistance, Rebellion and Death (1961).
- What will be left of the power of example if it is proved that capital punishment has another power, and a very real one, which degrades men to the point of shame, madness, and murder?
- Albert Camus, “Reflections on the Guillotine,” Resistance, Rebellion and Death (1961).
- In the disposition of capital cases in the United States, the median elapsed time between sentence and execution is approximately seventeen months. [...] However, even an attorney of moderate talent can postpone doomsday year after year, for the system of appeals that pervades American jurisprudence amounts to a legalistic wheel of fortune [...].
- Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, part 4
- The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.' [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267, Archived October 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Capital punishment kills immediately, whereas lifetime imprisonment does so slowly. Which executioner is more humane? The one who kills you in a few minutes, or the one who wrests your life from you in the course of many years?
- Anton Chekhov, The banker in The Bet, Works, vol. 7, p. 229, “Nauka” <1254>
- No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
- To the left of the stairway was an opaque glass door with a sign that read: SOCIETY FOR THE ABOLISHMENT OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. The door was locked but the next morning, I knew, the stiff-looking lady with the bleached blond hair would be back at her typewriter. What did one do to abolish capital punishment? I wondered. I had asked Father one day what capital punishment meant. "Killing," said Father, "but they are wasting their time." How strange, I had thought, to waste one's time sitting at a typewriter all day long to abolish something that was already against the law.
- The chief and worst pain may not be in the the bodily suffering but in one's knowing for certain that in an hour, and then in ten minutes, and then in half a minute, and then now, at the very moment, the soul will leave the body and that one will cease to be a man and that that's bound to happen; the worst part of it is that it's certain. When you lay your head down under the knife and hear the knife slide over your head, that quarter of a second is the most terrible of all. You know this is not only my imagination, many people have said the same. I believe that so thoroughly that I'll tell you what I think To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself. Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, Ch. 2, Prince Myshkin.
- The ability of so many people to live comfortably with the idea of capital punishment is perhaps a clue to how so many Europeans were able to live with the idea of the Holocaust: Once you accept the notion that the state has the right to kill someone and the right to define what is a capital crime, aren't you halfway there?
- Roger Ebert, "Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.", Chicago Sun-Times, 4 February 2000.
- I have reached the conviction that the abolition of the death penalty is desirable. Reasons: 1) Irreparability in the event of an error of justice, 2) Detrimental moral influence of the execution procedure on those who, whether directly or indirectly, have to do with the procedure.
- Albert Einstein "Albert Einstein-The human side", Princeton University Press, 1979, p.83.
- Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
- Pope Francis, Holy See Press Office. “New Revision of Number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Death Penalty – Rescriptum ‘ex Audentia SS.mi,’ 02.08.2018.” August 2, 2018
- I would draw distinction between killing and detention and even corporal punishment. I think there is a difference not merely in quantity but also in quality. I can recall the punishment of detention. I can make reparation to the man upon whom I inflict corporal punishment. But once a man is killed, the punishment is beyond recall or reparation. God alone can take life, because He alone gives it.
- Mahatma Gandhi, Young India, 8th November 1925. Quoted in Bishan Sarup Sharma, Gandhi as a Political Thinker, Indian Press, 1956 (p.108).
- The pain was maddening. You should pray to God when you're dying, if you can pray when you're in agony. In my dream I didn't pray to God, I thought of Roger and how dearly I loved him. The pain of those wicked flames was not half so bad as the pain I felt when I knew he was dead. I felt suddenly glad to be dying. I didn't know when you were burnt to death you'd bleed. I thought the blood would all dry up in the terrible heat. But I was bleeding heavily. The blood was dripping and hissing in the flames. I wished I had enough blood to put the flames out. The worst part was my eyes. I hate the thought of gong blind. It's bad enough when I'm awake but in dreams you can't shake the thoughts away. They remain. In this dream I was going blind. I tried to close my eyelids but I couldn't. They must have been burnt off, and now those flames were going to pluck my eyes out with their evil fingers, I didn't want to go blind. The flames weren't so cruel after all. They began to feel cold. Icy cold. It occurred to me that I wasn't burning to death but freezing to death.
- Arthur Guirdham in The Cathars and Reincarnation, p. 89
- Many of us do not believe in capital punishment, because thus society takes from a man what society cannot give.
- Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Modes and Morals, ch. 7 (1920).
- If we could do away with death, we wouldn’t object; to do away with capital punishment will be more difficult. Were that to happen, we would reinstate it from time to time.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, from Makarie’s Archive (1829).
- Capital punishment is our society's recognition of the sanctity of human life.
- Orrin Hatch, quoted from David Milsted, The Cassell Dictionary of Regrettable Quotations (1999)
- Death penalty is the special and eternal sign of barbarism. Where death penalty is applied, barbarism dominates; where death penalty is rare, civilisation reigns.
- Victor Hugo, National Constituant Assembly of the French Republic, 15 September 1848.
- Three things belong to God and do not belong to men: the irrevocable, the irreparable and the indissoluble. Woe to men if they introduce it in their laws!
- Victor Hugo, National Constituant Assembly of the French Republic, 15 September 1848.
- You guys in AZ are life savers.
- Scott Kernan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, upon being resupplied with sodium thiopental from the Arizona Department of Corrections to carry out lethal injection, The Washington Post, 9 December 2010.
- Yea, such is the law of England, the tenderest law in the world of a man's life. I say again, that no such trial for life is to be found in the world, as in England. In any place but in England, a man's life may be taken away upon two or three witnesses; but in England two or three witnesses do not do it: For there are two juries besides, and you have four-and-twenty men returned; you have one-and-twenty men upon their oaths and consciences that have found you guilty: And yet when you have done that, it is not enough by the law of England, but you are also to have twelve rational understanding men of your neighbours to hear all over again, and to pass upon your life. This is not used in any law in the world but in England, which hath the most righteous and most merciful law in the world.
- Lord Keble, C.J., Lilburne's Case (1649), 4 How. St. Tr. 1311; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 240-241.
- Death penalty: The death penalty will not solve the problem of crime, but it is more than merely symbolic. There are some people who commit murder that so subvert society that they deserve nothing less than a death sentence. I believe, as does the Supreme Court, that some people will be deterred by it.
- Ed Koch, Ed Koch on Everything (1994), p. 61
- We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.
- Land said that he, like most Southern Baptists, support the death penalty with certain caveats. “If you are going to support the death penalty then you have to be as supportive of its equitable and just application,” Land said, suggesting it is immoral to support it otherwise. A person is much more likely to be executed if they are poor rather than wealthy, a person of color and a man, he added.
- Richard Land in Baptist Press "Sparks fly in Land's appearance at black columnists’ meeting" Archived June 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Lethal injection was initially seen as a more humane option than the electric chair in administering the death penalty. Unfortunately, according to Oliver, that is simply not the case. This is due in part to the fact that lethal injections are performed by “amateurs,” according to Oliver, because medical personnel cannot be involved in executions as they violate their ethical codes. The other reason has to do with the combination of drugs given during executions. There’s an anesthetic, a paralytic, which reportedly can make people feel like they are suffocating while awake, and the final dose which feels like “fire in your veins” before it puts the person into cardiac arrest.
- Melissa Locker, “'There's No Way to Do This and Make It Okay.' John Oliver Talks Lethal Injection on Last Week Tonight”, Time, (5/5/2019); quoting John Oliver, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, (5/5/2019).
- Problems or successes, they all are the results of our own actions. Karma.... As you sow, so shall you reap. It's a very old proverb of mankind... Sometime you may have killed that man, and then sometime now he comes to kill you... What we have done, the result of that comes to us whenever it comes, either today, tomorrow, hundred years later, hundred lives later, whatever, whatever. And so, it's our own karma... That is why that philosophy in every religion: Killing is sin. Killing is sin in every religion. Whosoever sins, whoever is killed, it doesn't matter. It's a sin. And sin.. is a punishable offense. Because when you sin, when you've killed some man, what you are killing? You are killing the cosmic potential within the individual. Individual is cosmic. Individual potential of life is cosmic potential. Individual is divine deep inside. Transcendental experience awakens that divinity in man... When you kill a man like that you deprive him from getting to his human right.
- The burning of the house of the offender is not a permissible punishment for arson. The rape of the offender is not a permissible punishment of a rapist. Why should murder be a permissible punishment for murder?
- Justice Ismail Mahomed, S v Makwanyane, (6 June 1995).
- It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.
- All grandeur, all power, all subordination to authority rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association.
- Joseph de Maistre, St. Petersburg Dialogues (1821), "First Dialogue"
- If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.
- Capital punishment has probably been responsible for a good deal of human progress. The overwhelming majority of those executed were of the sort whose departures for bliss eternal improved the average intelligence and decency of the race.
- H. L. Mencken, "The Penalty of Death" (1926)
- ... for if [abrogation] comes it will be their doing, and they will have gained what I cannot but call a fatal victory, for they will have achieved it by bringing about... an effeminacy in the general mind of the country.
- John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism and the 1868 Speech on Capital Punishment, p.68. (Sher, ed. Hackett Publishing Co, 2001)
- The murder of one person is called unrighteous and incurs one death penalty. Following this argument, the murder of ten persons will be ten times as unrighteous and there should be ten death penalties; the murder of a hundred persons will be a hundred times as unrighteous and there should be a hundred death penalties. All the gentlemen of the world know that they should condemn these things, calling them unrighteous. But when it comes to the great unrighteousness of attacking states, they do not know that they should condemn it. On the contrary, they applaud it, calling it righteous.
- Mozi, Book 5: Condemnation of Offensive War I
- A bedouin came and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Judge between us according to Allah's Laws." His opponent got up and said, "He is right. Judge between us according to Allah's Laws." The bedouin said, "My son was a laborer working for this man, and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife. The people told me that my son should be stoned to death; so, in lieu of that, I paid a ransom of one hundred sheep and a slave girl to save my son. Then I asked the learned scholars who said, "Your son has to be lashed one-hundred lashes and has to be exiled for one year." The Prophet said, "No doubt I will judge between you according to Allah's Laws. The slave-girl and the sheep are to go back to you, and your son will get a hundred lashes and one year exile." He then addressed somebody, "O Unais! go to the wife of this (man) and stone her to death" So, Unais went and stoned her to death.
- Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?
- Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the hangman's job.
- The uncanny assemblage of scientific, institutional, legal, and social forces all pushing to strip government of its power to kill make it seem as if there really is a mysterious arc bending toward justice. More prosaically, we are seeing a moral principle-Life is sacred, so killing is onerous-become distributed across a wide range of actors and institutions that have to cooperate to make the death penalty possible. As these actors and institutions implement the principle more consistently and thoroughly, they inexorably push the country away from the impulse to avenge a life with a life. The pathways are manifold and torturous, the effects are slow and then sudden, but in the fullness of time an idea from the Enlightenment can transform the world.
- Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now (Penguin: 2018), p. 213
- Within your system, to kill is obviously a moral crime, but to kill another in punishment only compounds the original error. Someone very well known who established a church -- if you will, a civilization -- once said, "Turn the other cheek if you are attacked." The original meaning of that remark, however, should be understood. You should turn the other cheek because you realize that basically the attacker only attacks himself. Then you are free, and the reaction is a good one. If you turn the other cheek without this understanding, however, and feel resentful, or if you turn the other cheek out of a feeling of pseudomoral superiority, then the reaction is far from adequate.
- Jane Roberts in Seth Speaks (1972), p. 171
- As regards capital cases, the trouble is that emotional men and women always see only the individual whose fate is up at the moment, and neither his victim nor the many millions of unknown individuals who would in the long run be harmed by what they ask. Moreover, almost any criminal, however brutal, has usually some person, often a person whom he has greatly wronged, who will plead for him. If the mother is alive she will always come, and she cannot help feeling that the case in which she is so concerned is peculiar, that in this case a pardon should be granted. It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.
- Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography.
- The Bible identifies 15 crimes against the family worthy of the death penalty. Abortion is treason against the family and deserves the death penalty. Adultery is treason to the family; adulterers should be put to death. Homosexuality is treason to the family and it too, is worthy of death.
- Scroggs, L.C.J: My rule is this, in doubtful cases, when men are upon their lives, I had rather hear what is impertinent, than not let them make a full defence.
North, L.C.J: I had rather hear things at a venture, than forbid things at a venture.
- Whitehead's Case (1679), 7 How. St. Tr. 388; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 241.
- In the case of murder, the death penalty - issued by way of putting the culprit to sleep to then apply the lethal injection - is the time delayed procedure of self-defense as carried out by the representatives of the victim(s) who, at the time of the incident and due to the then existing circumstances, was/were unable to defend itself/themselves from the willful murderous attack.
- Manfred F. Schieder (1937 - ) From Chapter 6 of "Ayn Rand, I and the Universe" (http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Schieder/The_Logically_Resulting_Type_of_Society.shtml).
- The Tannam further underscore the distance between the treatment of a fetus and that of a full nefesh in an altogether different circumstance in Mishnah Arakhin: “The execution of a pregnant woman who is condemned to death is not postponed until after she gives birth. But once she is on the birth stool, the execution is postponed until after she gives birth.”
- Daniel Schiff, “Abortion in Judaism”, (Cambridge University Press 2002), Ch.2 Evaluating life: rabbinic perspectives on fetal standing, p.37
- The Tannam elaborate upon their commitment to execution until the onset of labor within a middrashic source:
I might have thought that if she were pregnant they would postpone [the execution] until she gave birth. Therefore, the Bible teaches, “He that smote him shall surely be put to death.”” I might have thought that if he were three months pregnant, they should not postpone [the execution] until she gives birth; but if she were nine months pregnant, they should postpone [the execution] until she has given birth. Therefore, Scripture teaches: “he shall surely be put to death.”
- Daniel Schiff, “Abortion in Judaism”, (Cambridge University Press 2002), p.37
- The gemera to Masekhet rakhin conveys a number of important insights that serve to underscore the elevated status of the condemned mother in this case. First, the observation is made that were it not for this mishnah’s explicit demand for her death, the mother would in fact not have been subject to execution, because based on the payment requirement set forth in Exodus 21:22-25, the fetus is the husband’s property “of which he should not be deprived.”” Hence, not only does this mishnah set the condemned woman’s interests over those of her fetus, but over those of her husband, which it is fair to surmise was probably quite a radial notion in the Tannaitic period. Furthermore, in the continuation of the Gemera, the rabbis rule as follows: “Said Rabbi Judah in the name of Samuel: ‘Before such a woman is executed she is struck across her abdomen, so that the fetus will die prior to the execution, to prevent her dishonor at the time of execution.’” Rashi interprets this “”dishonor” to mean that if the fetus did not die, and was expelled from the body after the mother’s execution the bleeding that could result would be a dishonor to the woman. Thus, in addition to the fact that the fate of the fetus was to be given no independent consideration from that of its mother, the law also envisioned that the act of feticide would be carried out separately and deliberately-rather than as a byproduct of the execution – in the interests of the condemned woman’s dignity. At no point in the discussion does the Gemara demur over the proposed feticide. The Tannaitic ruling goes uncontested: the fetus ought to be killed because the interests of the mother in a swift and “dignified” death far outweigh any consideration due to the unborn.
Aptowitzer makes the case that the Tannaim were, in this instance, deeply insightful in enacting these provisions, preferring ethics over politics.
Politics, it is true, would demand the opposite, for it subordinates the welfare of the individual to the interest of the state; ethics, however, protects the individual in the first place. Politics know subjects of state: taxpayers and soldiers; ethics knows but men. To politics men are members of the state, wheels of a machine; to ethics the state is a union of men. To politics the condemned mother is part of a machine rendered useless, but her expected child is a freshly wrought screw; the former is cast to the heap of old iron, the latter is guarded carefully. To ethics, however, the condemned mother is still a woman having claim to forbearance. Hence the politically motivated laws of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, refused to admit the execution of a pregnant woman; while the ethically motivated law of the Jews prescribes it.
- Daniel Schiff, “Abortion in Judaism”, (Cambridge University Press 2002), p.39
- Waltke notes that Lev. 24:17 requires the death penalty for anyone who “kills any human life,” and says that the death penalty plainly was not prescribed in Exodus, Chapter 21, for killing a fetus. He concludes that the fetus was not reckoned as a soul in the Old Testament. W.A. Criswell agrees with Waltke, focusing as he does on the “birth and breath” criteria for personhood of Gen. 2:7. He says that the legislation in Exodus was “designed to protect pregnant women from injury” and clearly recognized the different standings of women and fetuses under the law.
- Paul D. Simmons, “Personhood, the Bible, and the Abortion Debate”, p.3
- Niles Talbot: First thing you got to understand is when it's their time, all these big tough guys go yellow. Crying, hollering, screaming and blubbering, "The Governor is gonna call,"and all that. I been here 12 years, and the Governor ain't called yet.
- Niles Talbot: Fucking guys on TV, what do they know? Let me tell you something. If they put executions on TV it would be the fucking highest-rated show of all time. It'd be Neilsens through the roof. The other networks would start killing people just to compete. Pretty soon, Geraldo Rivera would be pulling that switch.
- I personally have always voted for the death penalty because I believe that people who go out prepared to take the lives of other people forfeit their own right to live. I believe that that death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no-one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty.
- No man e'er felt the halter draw,
With good opinion of the law.
- The most marked indication of society's endorsement of the death penalty for murder is the legislative response to Furman.
- But we are concerned here only with the imposition of capital punishment for the crime of murder, and when a life has been taken deliberately by the offender, we cannot say that the punishment is invariably disproportionate to the crime. It is an extreme sanction suitable to the most extreme of crimes.
- After a four-year moratorium on executions in California, multiple proceedings in federal court, a state administrative law proceeding, and state court appeals, it is incredible to think that the deliberative process might be driven by the expiration date of the execution drug.
- Let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing; a man condemned to public works still serves the country, and is a living lesson.
- Voltaire, "Civil and Ecclesiastical Laws," Dictionnaire philosophique (1785-1789)
- Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Famous Quotes about Death Penalty and Capital Punishment
- Anti-Death Penalty Quotes - compilation of abolitionist quotes